Ten Years #19: The Shins


Decade of last.fm scrobbling countdown:
19. The Shins (1,344 plays)
Top track (75 plays): Pink Bullets, from Chutes Too Narrow (2003)
Featured track: Gone For Good, from Chutes Too Narrow

When I leave my heavy metal tunnel vision behind and consider what properly ought to be regarded as the most significant musical movement of the first decade of this century, the answer ultimately resolves to indie rock. What that means is, of course, no clear-cut, formulaic sound, any more than grunge or classic rock constitute a style. Indie rock was a particular attitude towards music–a love affair between earth and sky that saw bands fundamentally rooted to rationality float among the clouds. It is unfortunate that my last.fm charts for that era could not make room for the likes of Built to Spill, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, and The Fiery Furnaces, but those bands that did grind their way into my top 50 represent, I think, one of the finest eras music has to offer. I wouldn’t call The Shins my favorite indie rock band–I’ll reserve that title for an entry a little nearer the top–but I do think they orbit closer the core of what indie rock stood for than any band before or since them.

James Mercer’s genius rests foremost in his lyrics. From the opening lines of Oh, Inverted World on, his ability to paint the simple, mundane concerns of life in lush metaphor–“I think I’ll go home and mull this over, before I cram it down my throat. At long last it’s crashed; its colossal mass has broken up into bits in my moat.”–has defined the indie attitude. It’s permeated with a smug wit, perpetually aware of the trite contrivances of standardized rock that it revels in. Mercer knows his lyrics are extravagant, overreaching their subject matter, and the sort of tongue-in-cheek arrogance of it all is what makes the music so delightful. You can fall in love with it and laugh at the same time.

I chose “Gone For Good” to represent The Shins in this post even though it’s stylistically a bit out of character, because I think it perfectly captures what I love about this band. The lyrics are deliciously pretentious, paired with a comically simple tune that nevertheless successfully pleads for the same pretty appeal as Mercer’s more creative melodies. And now, in an era permeated with the same lack of awareness that tortured the 1980s, it’s a relieving reminder that every dark cloud over the landscape of creative expression is followed by a bit of wit and sunlight.

Untie me, I’ve said no vows.
The train is getting way too loud.
I’ve got to leave here my girl, and get on with my lonely life.
Just leave the ring on the rail for the wheels to nullify.

Until this turn in my head,
I let you stay, and you paid no rent.
I spent twelve long months on the lam.
That’s enough sitting on the fence for the fear of breaking dams.

It took me all of a year,
to put the poison pill to your ear.
But now I stand on honest ground, on honest ground.
You want to fight for this love, but honey you cannot wrestle a dove.
Baby it’s clear.

You want to jump and dance,
But you sat on your hands and lost your only chance.
Go back to your home town, get your feet on the ground, and stop floating around.
I found a fatal flaw in the logic of love and went out of my head.
You love a sinking stone that will never elope,
So get used to the lonesome, girl you must atone some.
Don’t leave me no phone number there.

Horror Review: The Walking Dead S4E03 “Isolation”


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“You step outside. You risk your life.” — Hershel Greene

The first two episode of The Walking Dead for season 4 has been all about upending the sense of normalcy and serenity that Rick and his group of survivors have fought and worked to create within the safety of the prison. We saw a timeskip of many months from the time Rick brought the survivors of Woodbury back to the prison to show them that they weren’t the monsters the Governor had made them up to be and from there started up this community that the audience was dropped into in season 4.

As we saw with last week’s episode, “Infected”, that sense of civilization and safety was nothing but an illusion. The zombies got into the prison and attacked a major chunk of the survivors and now a new threat has reared it’s viral head to make the lives of Rick and the gang that much more difficult, if not, hopeless. Zombies, even herds of them, and other people this group could handle as Glenn commented to his father-in-law, but the disease which struck Patrick and looks to be burning through those who were in the compromised Cell Block D was one thing they couldn’t fight.

“Isolation” marks another forward step for a show that has had a difficult time trying to stay on course when it comes to it’s overarching story arcs for the season. New showrunner Scott M. Gimple promised a season that was going to avoid standing pat, but reintroduce a sense of mystery and unknown dangers to a group that’s as battle-hardened as any military unit after three seasons of constant fighting. Now we know that one of these new dangers is a disease (maybe a particularly strong strain of the flu or maybe even the plague itself) which has used the cramped living spaces of the prison and a shortage in proper medicines to incubate and spread itself amongst the survivors.

The entire episode works almost like an isolation ward for the main characters and some of the newer ones. They’ve come such a long way to survive this hellish new world and partly due to isolating themselves from the problems inherent in a zombie apocalyptic world, but also in a community that’s one step removed from the disease-ridden refugee camps we see televised on TV on a daily basis. This was a group that had fooled itself into thinking that isolating their little piece of “heaven” from the outside would keep them safe. It has to a certain degree but it also made them complacent. Yes, they’ve become more compassionate (though smarter) about letting new people into the community, but they’ve stopped trying to venture farther out into the wilderness to find other communities who could share resources and help rebuild the very civilization Rick and the council has been working so hard to accomplish.

Now, their isolation will need to end as they must find new sources of medicines to help combat the disease that’s burning through the prison. Their mission has become much more dire in that it’s not just the new additions to the group who have now become infected but one of their in Glenn has succumbed to it as well. And for all the hardcore survival instincts and skills Daryl, Michonne and the rest have honed to a deadly degree the world outside still remains one that could kill them all without hesitation no matter their skills. The pan of the camera to show the oncoming herd (much bigger than past shown herds) on the group of Daryl, Michonne, Tyreese and Bob was something we rarely see in zombie flicks and tv (though World War Z did it through use of CG). This sequence just shows how easily people who’ve isolated themselves from this never-ending danger could easily lose hope as Tyreese looked to have at first glance.

This latest episode of The Walking Dead really didn’t have any of the action we saw in the first two episode of the new season, but it’s been one that avoided the past season mistakes of not moving the story forward. Yes, they’re still stuck in the prison, but the narrative has continued to propel forward. We find out who killed Karen and David (the burnt bodies that ended episode 2) instead of the writers stretching it out over several episodes. The answer to this mystery brings up new questions as to why this long-standing character decided to act unilaterally even if it was for the greater good of the community. The fact that their actions ultimately failed to keep the disease in check still doesn’t change the fact that even the meekest of the group has grown and change to adapt to a world where even something as simple as a common cold or the flu could kill just as quickly as the zombies gathering at the prison fences.

“Isolation” was written by comic book creator Robert Kirkman who has grown to become better in translating ideas he has written for the series’ comic book counterpart and ideas discarded along the way into something that helps the tv show distinguish itself from the original source material. The show has almost become a way for Kirkman to recreate the early days of the comic book source with new themes and characters. With the comic book itself already years ahead of the show it’s going to be interesting to see whether the tv show will skip some of the smaller story arcs that occur after the prison and move the group closer to the timeline comic book readers are currently at.

While short on action, “Isolation” brings to the fore new problems for the group both immediate and moral. Will the admission of one of their own to the culpability of Karen and David’s murder be told to the rest of the council or will Rick keep this secret to himself? Is the brief radio signal caught in the car radio as Daryl and his scavenging group drive down the road lead to the Governor or a truly safe haven?

One thing that’s been consistent with this new season so far has been that the writers have learned to not stand pat with the show’s narrative. Previous showrunner Glen Mazzara preached forward momentum with season 3 but ultimately failed as the season limped to it’s finale. Only time will tell whether new showrunner Scott M. Gimple will do the same or actually finish this season strong and actually stay around for a following season.

Notes

  • “Infected” was written by source material creator Robert Kirkman and veteran tv director Dan Sackheim.
  • The fight between Rick and Tyreese was one of several fandom moments which mirrors similar scenes in the comic book, but with the show arriving to the scene in a much different manner. In the comic book, this fight occurred after Tyreese found out about her daughter’s death as part of a suicide pact with her boyfriend and Tyreese murdering the boyfriend and then shooting her daughter after she turned.
  • The other moment being Tyreese’s hammer rampage on the zombies that surrounded their car on the way to the veterinary college. In the comic book, this scene happened in the prison indoor gym.
  • We learn more about just how virulent the disease that took Patrick really is as survivors of Cell Block D and some of those who fought to save it succumb less than a day from Patrick dying from it.
  • I know it’s become a joke when it comes to Carl and his trusty gun, but it’s good that the writers saw fit to not prolong this particular storyline. Rick, more than anyone else, understands that Carl is one of the better fighters in the community and he’s come to regret trying to hamper the boy and in return make the group less effective.
  • Carl actually listening to Hershel about not having to kill every zombie they come across was a surprise. We’ve seen how leaving a zombie still standing and operating led to disastrous results for season 2. Will Carl practicing restraint come to bite the group again or does it mean Carl has edged back away from becoming a sociopath and into something more like his father and less like Shane. With each passing episode Carl looks to be emulating Daryl more and more and that could be a good thing in the long run seeing how Rick is not what one would call mentally stable.
  • Nice to see the writers actually giving one of the new characters, Larry Gilliard, Jr’s Bob Stookey, some character growth moments where in the past such new faces were relegated to becoming either zombie chow or cannon fodder. His reaction to finding out that they will be taking Zack’s car (Beth short-lived boyfriend from the season premiere) to their scavenge run to the local veterinary college 40 miles away shows how much guilt he feels at having caused the young man’s death.
  • One of the best reveals of the season so far has been that massive herd that looks to be in the thousands bearing down the highway and Daryl, Michonne, Tyreese and Bob stuck in their car. A question that rises up from this sequence is to whether this herd is heading towards the prison or will it just bypass their haven altogether.
  • Carol, Carol, Carol has become the new lightning rod for this season. Some have enjoyed the characters growth into a bonafide survivor in more than one sense. Some don’t like the fact that she’s become too cold and calculating even if it’s for the greater good of the group. Some just can’t get behind the fact that a woman on the show has actually become one of it’s more level-headed characters. I, for one, hope she sticks around past this season. This Carol has become the show’s comic book version of Andrea and that should be celebrated instead of denigrated.
  • Talking Dead Guests: Series executive producer Gale Anne Hurd, Jack Osborne and Marilyn Manson. Manson definitely made for a unique guest on the post-episode show. To say that he made show host Chris Hardwick more than just a tad uncomfortable would be an understatement.

Season 4

Halloween Horrors 2013 : “Self Storage”


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Sometimes even a movie with very little to recommend for it still has — well, something to recommend for it. Such is the case with this year’s direct-to-video, shot-on-HD indie horror effort Self Storage,  a largely pathetic, unmemorable, boringly amoral (more on that before we’re through) piece of — uhhmm, work —- written and directed by, and starring, the supremely untalented Tom DeNucci.

Shot in Rhode Island, this is one of those flicks that’s pretty hard to see having much of an audience beyond the friends and immediate family of anyone involved in its production, being that every single character in it’s a complete douchebag, the blood n’ guts are both fairly tame and poorly realized, and its somewhat inventive premise is buried under layer upon layer of incompetent execution.

First, the particulars of the plot : go-nowhere pothead Jake (the aforementioned DeNucci) works as a security guard at a mini-storage facility. His friends, a half-assed assemblage of walking caricatures (the slut, the hot chick, the good girl, the horn-dog guy who gets a lot of pussy, the two other horn dog guys who get no pussy and are hopeless porn addicts) want to party at his workplace one night and figure it should be no sweat because Jake actually lives on the premises, as well. He says no at first, then says yes when he learns that his asshole boss (Eric Roberts) and flunky right-hand man (Micheal Berryman, whose name might not ring a bell to anyone but die-hard horror fans, but who even most casual viewers will recognize instantly thanks to The Hills Have EyesThe Devil’s Rejects, and too many other flicks to mention — in short, he’s the tall, bald, weird-lookin’ dude) have cut some kind of shady deal with a local black marketeer (Jonathan Silverman — -speaking of supremely untalented), and intend to shut the place down the next day when they’re good and rich and fire their deadbeat part-timer’s ass in a heartbeat.

So — the party’s on, but everyone but Jake and his sweetheart get killed because the “big deal” that’s going down is a massive sale of kidnapped coeds for the purportedly thriving underground body parts and organs trade. Jake accidentally melts the folks who have already been kidnapped in an acid shower — long story — and finds that he and his dickhead friends have been tapped as replacements.

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Yeah, I know — it sounds kinda creepy/interesting yet hopelessly stupid at the same time. Rest assured, dear reader, that the “hopelessly stupid” part of the equation wins the day in a hurry and you’ll be hoping against hope for everyone — even (and maybe especially) our purported “hero ” —  to get killed both gruesomely and quickly. Unfortunately, things take a long time to get going, and aren’t very interesting once they do. DeNucci’s film is that rarest of things, then — a story about people you’re aching to see get murdered that bores you so fucking much that you don’t even end up caring how, when, or even if they die — you want ’em too, sure, but actively giving a damn is just too much effort.

So what about that whole “dully amoral” thing, then? Well, Jake ends up pocketing the take for his dead pals’ organs in the end, and rides off into the sunset with his ladyfriend, and I guess the two live happily ever after on the gruesome loot they’ve procured on the deceased bodies of their friends. Could be shocking, I suppose, if handled correctly, but it’s such a garbled mess that you honestly wonder if DeNucci even considered the ethical implications of his tasteless finale or if he just wrapped things up quickly because he didn’t know what the hell else to do at that point. The end result? It all falls pretty flat — just like the preceding 90-or-so minutes.

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Still, as I mentioned at the outset, Self Storage has at least one thing going for it — Eric Roberts, who’s clearly in the “anything for a buck” phase of his career at this point. I don’t know about you, but if my script called for a psychotic cheeseball Viet Nam vet who owns a mini-storage business and trades in impromptu homemade (and fatal) surgery on the side, he’d be the first guy I’d call. And he certainly doesn’t disappoint here, hamming it up with the kind of overstated, fourth-wall-busting relish that makes his turn as the villainous Master in 1996’s Doctor Who TV movie look subtle by comparison. He’s a lot of fun to watch, and is clearly pushing the envelope of what he can get away with simply because he knows his chickenshit kid director doesn’t have the balls to step in and tell him to at least try to play it straight. I have a weird kind of respect for anyone willing to piss in his boss’s face so brazenly, and so I tip my hat to Mr. Roberts for  clearly communicating with his outrageous performance exactly what he thinks of this steaming pile of dogshit he’s working on. Thanks for the money, ya snot-nosed little punk, now shut up, get the fuck out of my way, and let me do what I do best.

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Beyond that, though, this is a movie with less than nothing going for it. Don’t waste your time and/or money picking it up on Blu-Ray or DVD, to be sure — and if you absolutely must watch it in spite of my dire warnings, then catch it on Netflix’s instant streaming queue, like I did. But honestly — you’re just better off leaving the whole thing alone and just trusting me when I say that Roberts is a blast to watch, but Self Storage is in no way worth sitting through just to see him ooze sleaze and disrespect for his (temporary) employers unless you’re really bored, stoned, or both.

Horror On TV: Door Into Darkness Episode 1 “The Neighbor”


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For some of our readers, this will probably be the most challenging episode of television that I’m going to post this Halloween season.

But first, what is Door Into Darkness?

In 1973, after he had directed his highly successful Three Animals Trilogy, Dario Argento produced a television series called Door Into Darkness.  Each episode of Door Into Darkness told a different story of horror and suspense.  Argento would appear at the beginning of each episode and introduce the story.

Of the four episodes of Door Into Darkness that were produced, most critics agree that the first one was the best.  Titled Neighbors, it was also the directorial debut of Argento’s long-time assistant, Luigi Cozzi.

Neighbors tells the story of a newlywed couple who, along with their newborn baby, move into a seaside villa.  (Along the way, they also manage to run their car into a ditch, effectively leaving them stranded at their new home.)  When they arrive at the villa, they discover that the power hasn’t been turned on yet so they decide to hang out in the apartment upstairs.  Once up there, they come across the dead body of their neighbor’s wife.  When the neighbor arrives back home, the couple have to try to survive in the darkness while he looks for a place to hide the body of his dead wife.

Neighbors is an effectively suspenseful story that makes good use of both our inherent fear of the dark and the fact that we can never be quite sure of what our neighbors are doing.

I’m happy to say that a user in Italy has downloaded all four episodes of Door Into Darkness to YouTube and, hence, we can now share Neighbors on this site.

However, that’s where the challenge comes in.

The episode below is in Italian.

It has not been poorly dubbed into English and there are no subtitles.  Personally, that’s not an issue for me.  The plot of Neighbors is effectively simple and easy to follow and Italian suspense has always been a visual genre.  Add to that, I love Italy.  I’m a fourth Italian.  I could listen to people speak Italian for days without understanding a word with it.  I just love the sound of the language.

With all that in mind, here is Door Into Darkness…

Horror On The Lens: Haxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages (dir by Benjamin Christensen)


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Only four more days to go until Halloween so what better time  to feature one the greatest horror films of all time, 1922’s Haxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages?

Directed by the Danish director Benjamin Christensen, Haxan is a quasi-documentary that, over the course of four separate sections, documents the history of witchcraft and superstition in Europe.  Along with making a potent case that religion and superstition are largely the same thing, Haxan is best known for dramatizing various old folk tales.  Though the film was made in 1922, its images of lustful devils and dark magic remain powerful to this day.

Enjoy Haxan!